How to Develop and Foster Employee Ethics

A team participates in trainings.

Nearly every company has a vision or mission statement. Yet far fewer companies have a value statement that promotes employee ethics. A failure to include company values and ethics in the vision statement, or to ensure compliance, can lead to a host of issues, from lost revenue to corporate malfeasance.

Learn how to establish and integrate employee values into your company mission statement and day-to-day processes to improve your company culture and performance.

Why Employee Values Matter

Today’s businesses function within the information age. Employees have more information than they’ve ever had, and many business owners are more transparent than ever. This makes employee values even more crucial because:

  • The prevalence of social media and networking means candidates and recruiters can research your company’s ethics with just a few clicks.
  • The growth of global recruitment exposes companies to divergent customs and social norms.
  • The ascendance of the millennial and Gen Z workforce brings a new set of behavioral expectations to the workplace.

“We’re like fishes in a bowl,” says Nan DeMars, author of You’ve Got to be Kidding – How to Keep Your Job Without Losing Your Integrity. “Everyone is watching what corporations and employees are doing and ethics has an important role to play.”

Implementing and enforcing employee ethics can help your company:

  • Recruit and retain employees whose personal values align with company values.
  • Build a robust talent management strategy.
  • Reward and recognize employees for making ethical decisions.
  • Protect your employer brand.

Some of the Most Important Employee Values

While it may seem that employee ethics are situational and local, Ethics and Compliance Officer Association’s COO Tim Mazur points out six values common to all cultures:

  1. Trustworthiness
  2. Responsibility
  3. Civic virtue (what we call citizenship in US)
  4. Caring
  5. Justice (or fairness in some languages)
  6. Respect

Beyond these more universal values, your organization’s ethics should be specific to your industry and mission. Once you’ve identified your company values, the process of identifying your day-to-day workplace ethics can follow a more standardized process, Mazur says.

Developing Your Company’s Values and Employee Ethics

For each value, come up with at least five concrete principles that will guide hiring decisions as well as employee performance reviews, adds Mazur. For example, a utility company whose employees work on power lines might create a company value of respect for safety. Going deeper into what this means for employees on a daily basis, one of the utility’s ethics principles might be, “Employees should not cross roads on foot.”

The specificity of your organization’s workplace ethics will ensure that company values truly play a role during the evaluation and review process. For example, it’s much easier for a supervisor to evaluate whether an employee put himself in danger by crossing the street than it is to say whether or not he respected safety.

Going beyond rules, the Ethics Resource Center recommends focusing on encouraging positive behaviors, such as setting a good example, keeping promises and commitments, and supporting others in adhering to workplace ethical standards.

Communicating Company Values and Ethics Effectively

There’s no point in having employee ethics if no one knows them. Once you have clear company values, share them with your team. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • The employee handbook: Describe all your employee values.
  • Team meetings: Address topics like confidentiality, employee relationships, accountability, and harassment.
  • Hiring process: Share your company values with candidates to promote your employer brand and hire people with similar values.

These tactics will help employees at all levels of your organization understand the importance of your company’s chosen employee ethics.

How to Track Ethics Compliance

Make sure your team is accountable by tracking compliance, providing options for reporting infractions safely, and creating consequences for ethics violations. Ethics Resource Center estimates that 95 percent of whistleblowers tried to work out the issue internally before going public. The process for reporting violations should be confidential, taken seriously, and devoid of negative repercussions for whistleblowers.

After implementing your reporting process, follow up with surveys and evaluations to track and monitor its effectiveness. Additionally, incorporate values compliance into annual performance reviews to remind and encourage employees about the importance of ethical decision-making.

Continue to Improve Your Company Culture

Having clear employee ethics will strengthen your company culture and help you recruit and retain top talent. Keep up the momentum with more actionable hiring and management advice from Monster.